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Another survey reveals the dark underbelly of commercial health insurers

Delayed patient care, overburdened clinicians, and unnecessary costs — oh my!

Back in July, the American Hospital Association (AHA) released findings from three surveys conducted by Morning Consult on the practices of commercial health insurers.

The findings weren’t great.

Patients, nurses, and physicians are none too happy with insurer policies and practices. According to AHA, insurers are reducing access to medical care, driving up healthcare costs, and increasing clinician burden and burnout (oh, my).

Here are just some of the findings from the surveys (and our colorful commentary):

62 percent of patients have had medical care delayed because of their insurance provider in the last two years. 43 percent of those patients say their health has gotten worse as a result.

This is an unsurprising result, as many health insurance companies use bureaucratic loopholes like prior authorizations to delay and deny patient care. And it’s costing patients their health and wellbeing.

54 percent of patients have difficulty affording insurance costs and premiums.

Who can blame them!? While high deductible health plans (HDHPs) were supposed to prevent overutilization of health services from patients in 2000s, nowadays patients with these plans are under-insured. This means that, relative to their income, their out-of-pocket costs, including deductibles and premiums, are altogether too high. As a result, many patients avoid care—which is dangerous for those with chronic conditions, like diabetes.

More than 80 percent of physicians said insurance practices and policies affect their ability to practice medicine.

Remember the story of Penn State student Christopher McNaughton this spring? Us too. McNaughton had a severe chronic condition that warranted medication — drugs prescribed by a Mayo Clinic doctor that UnitedHealthcare refused to cover. Despite the physician’s protests on how altering the medication dosage would be detrimental to McNaughton’s health, the insurer didn’t care. Thankfully, McNaughton and his family fought back.

84 percent of nurses believe that insurance administrative policies delay patient care. 74 percent of nurses say it reduces the quality of care, while 63 percent say it interferes with a patient being transferred to the right care setting.

This is consistent with other data gathered by AHA. Navigating the complicated maze that is health insurer policies is an administrative burden. According to one survey, 95 percent of hospitals and health systems report increases in staff time spent seeking prior authorization approval. Additionally, 78 percent of hospitals and health systems report that their experience with commercial insurers is getting worse. This is troublesome for hospitals who are still understaffed.

If anything, the data released this July speaks to an overarching pattern: commercial health insurers getting in the way of patient care, jeopardizing their health and frustrating providers in the process.

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